Understanding the Language, History, and Culture of Vanuatu

The exotic culture of Vanuatu is wonderful to witness ... photo by CC user Graham Crumb on Imagicity.com

Vanuatu is an amazing holiday destination that draws many tourists every year in search of tranquil tropical surroundings and a wonderful holiday experience. If you are planning to book a holiday to Vanuatu, it is a good idea to find out some more about the island nation before your trip. Having an understanding of the history, its languages and its fascinating culture will enrich your experience and help you to get more out of the time you spend there.

A Brief History of Vanuatu

People first appeared in Vanuatu as early as 6,000 years ago, but most of what we know about them has been learned through oral traditions. It was not until the 17th century that Vanuatu was discovered by the first European explorers, when Espiritu Santo was spotted in 1606. It was later rediscovered in 1768 by Louis Antoine de Bougainville, and in 1774 Captain Cook visited the islands and named them the New Hebrides.

More Europeans arrived over the years, and by the 19th century settlers – mainly British – set up plantations to grow cotton, bananas, coconuts and more. It was a bleak time of the native population, many of whom were kidnapped for cheap labour in a practice known as ‘Blackbirding’. Missionaries also brought outside diseases to the local population.

But by the beginning of the 20th century, there were more French subjects than British, and in 1906 the New Hebrides were declared a British-French Condominium. Britain and France shared the territory, but it was a rather chaotic period.

After World War II, the journey towards independence began. A power struggle followed, and the islands finally became independent in 1980 when the New Hebrides became the Republic of Vanuatu.

A Fascinating Culture

If you visit Vanuatu on a cruise, you will instantly realise that it is boasts a rich and diverse culture, and this is fascinating to discover during your time here.

One of the most interesting aspects of the culture for visitors is the music. The most common type of music is known as ‘kastom singsing’ locally. This is particularly popular in rural areas, and it consists of drums, rattles and whistles. String band music is also popular, which uses guitars and ukuleles.

The local population is mainly Christian, made up of Anglicans, Presbyterians and Catholics, but there are also indigenous religions that are practiced throughout the country.

Vanuatu also boasts a unique art form called sand drawing. This popular cultural art is still practiced by the ni-Vanuatu, and remains an important tradition. A line is drawn in sand or sometimes volcanic ash with the finger to create a striking and usually symmetrical geometric pattern.

In general, you will find that Vanuatu is a place where the modern mixes with the traditional. Although there are plenty of modern influences throughout the country and especially in the towns and cities, in the villages you will find more traditional customs surrounding food, dance and the general way of life.

Dozens of Languages

French and English are both spoken widely in Vanuatu, as is Bislama. This is Pidgin English, and is the most widely spoken language across the country even though English and French are also official languages.

But although these are the three main languages, dozens of local languages are spoken throughout Vanuatu. In some cases, only a few people may speak one of the local languages. Indeed, many of them are considered endangered due to the small number of people who speak them. Per capita, Vanuatu has an incredibly high density of different languages, making it a unique and special place.

Although you may find it hard to learn any of the local languages or even get an opportunity to hear them spoken wheel you are on holiday in Vanuatu, you may want to try and learn a bit of Bislama before you visit. If you manage to say a few words of greeting to the people you meet, this will surely be appreciated by the locals.

Now See Vanuatu for Yourself

Whether you are planning to visit Vanuatu as part of a cruise, or you are planning to fly there directly, having a deeper understanding about the history, culture and language of the country before you go will help you to get more from your visit. This is a fascinating country that is ripe for exploring, so now it’s time to book your trip and experience it all for yourself. Cruise sites like Royal Caribbean offer more information on Vanuatu and the kind of ships that make the trip.

Ryan Posa was employed as the District Sales Manager for Carnival Australia, based in NZ, before setting up Cruises Online, now Cruise Republic which he spearheads as General Manager. During his career he has seen the exotic and beautiful. He enjoys blogging about his travel experiences to help others nurture their own travel fever. You can follow Ryan on Twitter.